Star rating - 10/10
It is always with a certain degree of trepidation that I approach an adaptation of a beloved book, either on film or stage. And Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 novel about the fate of two Afghan boys, and how it is linked to the wider fate of their country, is certainly up there in that category. Marc Forster's 2007 film version was for me something of a disappointment, unable to capture the magic and depth of the original.
So I didn't have particularly high hopes for the new stage version directed by Giles Croft, and wondered how he was going to span the years, and indeed continents, as well as capturing the tense and threatening political backdrop. But I think I can honestly say that I have never seen a more powerful, mesmerising tour de force on stage as The Kite Runner, now playing at Liverpool Playhouse after its Nottingham run.
The set is fairly sparse but immediately the two boys, Amir and Hassan begin to play together, it is magically and absolutely transformed into a the garden of a wealthy Kabul household before the Russian invasion. And no matter that the actors playing the boys are actually adults, Ben Turner as Amir and Farshid Rokey as Hassan, are mesmerising from the start. Turner's performance is nothing short of spectacular, as he is also the narrator of the whole story, retelling the painful events from across miles and continents as his adult self in California.
And yes, of course the novel is fantastic source material, but as has been shown by the film version, that alone is not enough to produce a great play. And make no mistake, this adaptation by Matthew Spangler is a truly great play. The whole cast are stellar, with Nicholas Karimi giving a terrifying personification of evil as the abuser and bully Assef. I don't want to spoil the story if you have not read it, but it deals with big issues of class, caste, oppression, guilt, and redemption. Educated and privileged Amir lets the devoted and illiterate Hazara son of his father's servant, Hassan, be brutally assaulted. He does nothing to help him, and indeed tells no-one afterwards - with terrible consequences.
This personal tragedy is played out against a backdrop of political oppression, first by the Russian invaders, then by the Taliban, who seek to revolutionise the country in a quite different and fundamentalist way. This play is gripping from the start, very cleverly designed, and brilliantly directed. It deserves to have a West End transfer, it would certainly pack audiences out, as word of mouth about its spellbinding power surely spreads. I can't say I enjoyed it - that is entirely the wrong verb - but I came out of it entirely captivated and stunned. I can't praise it highly enough.